Walk in the Woods
"…a vestige of a time when candles only burned at one
By DAVE ETTER* / Photograph courtesy of Albert Lee
shunpiking, november 1996, No. 9
Often ancient roadways become exposed as new highways
bisect the old in their mad dash across the province. These openings
have become invisible with overgrowth and, as you speed by on your way
to the office, are difficult to see. The gentle, curving, shaded trails
winding slowly around the hills instead of through them are a contrast
to the harsh, exposed rock cliffs created by the new super highways.
Jumping across the new ditch, ducking under a fallen tree to investigate
a dark hole in the otherwise seamless sheet of forest branches, you
are suddenly standing in the centre of a moss-covered old woods road.
You know it was a busy trail. The ditches are well-constructed, the
bridge is made of large stones, and the banks are edged in large rocks.
The ruts in the hard surface tell of much traffic in years gone past.
You look a long way down these pathways -- one hundred years or more.
A short walk takes you quickly away from the traffic.
It is late Autumn, and already you are surrounded by warm smells; gentle
breezes carry the calls of a solitary raven or perhaps a squirrel perched
on the branches above. After walking for a half hour or so, you may
come to a clearing on the side of a hill, overlooking a river.
As you look back from whence you came, you may see father returning
from town, having sold the old cow. He has some money now; money to
buy those curtains his wife has long wanted. Strolling a little further,
you come across an old cemetery, or a stone foundation. Sitting there
quietly on the hillside, the beautiful view is almost obscured by aging
hardwoods now almost shown or their red and golden canopy. The lingering
heat of fall sun makes you drowsy. You can again see the farmer, scythe
in hand, swiping down in great, smooth strokes the winter fodder needed
to feed the five or six head of cattle in the barn. A stone fence, now
just so much rubble, draws you to another depression surrounded by collapsed
rocks -- probably the barn. You could almost see the man and his boy
working so hard to carefully place each large flat stone, hoping to
secure his families' unsure future.
Sitting under an ancient apple tree, unpicked by human hands for probably
fifty years, there is evidence of deer trails, and circles of flattened
grass dapple a quiet field, now reclaimed by the forest's denizens.
You wonder what unfortunate circumstances must have occurred to cause
this farm to become abandoned. Did the father die early, forcing the
mother to move to the city? Was it the Great War, the great migration
to the "Boston States"? An accident in the barn? Did the kids move away
after school? Did none of the children want the hardscrabble life? Did
the kids ever come back and visit mom and dad ... or just mom? Was there
a sunny day in July when her daughter drove up in her care to take mother
away for the last time? Away to a city in Upper Canada, leaving the
house, all the years of memories, the collective experience and the
secrets not even the animals remembered?
Those precious curtains are faded and tattered now from years of blowing
in the wind. They still carry a vestige of a time when candles only
burned at one end, when neighbours helped and cared for one another.
If you go
Several back roads are neat but are not necessarily long trips.
First of all you need the 1992 edition of the Nova Scotia Map Book (topo);
keep in mind I have not been on this particular road for ten years.
Page 20, coordinates D-1 at Centre Rawdon. On Highway 14 heading west
one comes upon a cute little museum of sorts; the "Little red Schoolhouse"
located on the left-hand side of the road at Centre Rawdon. Turning
sharp left here, there is a narrow gravel road leading down into a ravine.
After a short drive to the southeast, a sharp turn to the right leads
you down over a narrow bridge spanning a beautiful deep gorge. Not many
people know of this road, thank goodness. There are rundown old farms
and plenty of places to get out and take a pleasant walk through this
*In a former life Dave Etter was a car rally buff and pharmacist
in Shubenacadie and founder of Mahone Bay Kayak Adventures.
Special thanks to Lorna Mattie & Barbara Winkler of Inverness
County for use of their photos.